Ollantaytambo, Peru is a village in the Sacred Valley known as “the living city of the Incas” due to its strong indigenous presence. You’ll see plenty of locals dressed in traditional colorful clothing and hats, and it’s not for show, like in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. There are even houses in town that have been continuously inhabited since the Incas were in power hundreds of years ago. In terms of things to do, the village has a fantastic archeological site and it’s a great base for an incredible hike to ruins and salt pools.
Ollantaytambo is primarily a place where travelers spend a night before starting the Inca Trail or taking the train to Machu Picchu. But, away from the plaza and train station, you don’t feel the heavy tourist traffic. The village feels so peaceful because of the surrounding mountains and the sounds of the river. Like Pisac, Ollantaytambo is a few hundred meters below Cusco, making it a few degrees warmer. For me, Ollantaytambo was one of the pleasant surprises of Peru.
How to Get There
Go to the bus stop in Cusco labeled “Pavitos Colectivo A Ollantaytambo” on Google Maps. There are frequent departures and the journey takes 1.5 hours.
Cusco Tourist Ticket
If you plan on visiting the archeological sites in the Sacred Valley, this pass is a fantastic deal. For 16 sites and museums, the cost is 130 soles (S/) and it’s valid for 10 days. You can buy it at any of the sites the ticket covers.
What to Do
Ollantaytambo Sanctuary – These spectacular ruins right in town were unfinished at the time of the Spanish attacks in Peru. Its main function was as a temple and it’s a sacred site due to the numerous surrounding mountains. You can hire a guide at the entrance for S/60-80 per group.
Moray – This archaeological site shows how smart the Incas were. The circular terraces were used for agricultural research and each ring is its own microclimate. The Incas brought soil from various regions of Peru to experiment with the cultivation of different crops.
Salineras de Maras – Marvel at the thousands of salt pools that the residents of Maras actively own and mine. It’s not a part of the tourist ticket, but the cost is only S/10. Maras is often combined with Moray on a tour, but if you want a cheap, off-the-beaten-path adventure I suggest visiting independently.
To do so, take a colectivo from Ollantaytambo to Urubamba and another colectivo to Maras which is a very authentic town with Wild West vibes. Then walk 6 km on a marked trail to Moray archeological site. To get to the Salineras from Moray, you’ll walk back on the same road to Maras town. Then walk 4 km downhill to the salt pools.
To get back to Ollantaytambo, it’s a 2.5 km walk downhill to the main road and you can wait for a colectivo here. The hike took me 7 hours total and it was an incredible day!
Had I done an organized tour, I wouldn’t have had a conversation with a farmer on the trail who wanted company. Nor would I have seen the woman herding sheep through the plaza in Maras. Not to mention, the scenery is beautiful. The only downside to this hike is there’s no signage or guides for hire at Moray, so you’ll want to do research beforehand.
Pinkuylluna – An archeological site built into the mountainside that functioned as food storage. The hike is steep but rewards you with fantastic views.
Where to Eat
Mawic Restaurant – It’s a bit pricier than other options in town, but the food is a cut above.
Koricancha – A cozy restaurant with plaza views and delicious traditional food.
Where to Stay
Mama Simona – This is one of my favorite hostels in South America and it truly felt like a home away from home. The dorms and bathrooms are top quality for a hostel. There’s free breakfast, filtered water, and free hot drinks all day. Plus, you’ll sleep like a baby when you get under the blankets and hear the sound of the river flowing behind the hostel.
How Long to Stay
2 days is perfect for Ollantaytambo before heading elsewhere in Peru. The village is very small, so you may find yourself bored if you stay longer.
Where to Next
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Cusco (1.5 hours by colectivo) – One of the continent’s gems is a hiker’s paradise full of incredible Inca ruins.
Pisac (2 hours via Urubamba) – A laidback town with incredible Inca ruins and hiking.
Puno (10 hours via Cusco) – Spend a night with an indigenous family on one of Lake Titicaca’s islands.
Arequipa (12 hours via Cusco) – The “White City” has beautiful architecture and delicious regional food.
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